A politician thinks of the next election. A statesman, of the next generation. -James Freeman Clarke
I don’t recall the first time I heard the term ‘plausible deniability’ in reference to politicians, but I knew instantly that there was a deep truth to the concept. I recall with some fascination and even a little pleasure the shame and embarrassment WikiLeaks had caused to politicians and leaders across the globe. Political leaders have consistently been the subject of ridicule, but with some of their darker secrets and malfeasance laid bare, it casts an even less attractive light as to their actions and what they knew, as opposed to their claims of what they didn’t know.
However, Rabbi Shlomo Ephraim of Prague, the Kli Yakar (1550-1619) is highly sympathetic to politicians and teaches proper protocol for conversing with them and even accusing them if matters must go so far.
In Genesis 42, Joseph has taken his charade to the breaking point. He is still unrecognized by his brothers in his role as the Egyptian Viceroy. He has falsely but successfully incriminated his younger brother Benjamin as having stolen his goblet and decreed a life sentence of slavery upon him. Joseph magnanimously clears the other brothers of any blame and allows them to freely return to their father Jacob in Canaan.
At this point, when all hope is lost of freeing Benjamin and preventing the heartbreak and potential death of their father from such a development, Judah, the nominal leader of the brothers, approaches Joseph.
According to the Kli Yakar on Genesis 42:18, Judah requests a private audience. Joseph allows Judah to approach. Judah whispers his accusation in Joseph’s ear, laying out the charade, hinting to Joseph that there was some foul play in Benjamin’s case and then offering himself as a replacement for the hapless Benjamin.
The Kli Yakar learns from Judah’s approach the necessity of discretion when dealing with government officials. It is dangerous to shame them or place them in an awkward situation. There is value in whispering a comment to them that only they will hear and that they could plausibly deny thereafter.
Judah’s approach is effective. Joseph breaks down and emotionally reveals himself to his long-lost brothers for a heartfelt reconciliation.
I’m sure our current politicians would love counterparts as sensitive and discrete as Judah.
May God keep us away from politicians in the first place, but if we have to deal with them, may we do so intelligently and escape unscathed.
To the memory of Captain Netanel Silberg hy”d of Alon Shvut.